Spain: Water Footprint Analysis of the Guadiana river basin within the NeWater project (#347)

The Upper Guadiana Basin provides a classic example of conflict caused by the intensive use of water resources in a semiarid region. Since the 1960s, uncontrolled abstraction of groundwater to provide water for crop irrigation in the area has lowered the water table in places by up to 50m, causing the main river channels to run dry and some wetlands to become desiccated. On the other hand, the abstraction has also supported a booming agricultural economy. 


The result has been conflict between the farmers, central and regional governments and conservationists. In order to solve these conflicts, the central government has tried different solutions (e.g. strict regulation, subsidies). In January 2008 a Plan for the Upper Guadiana for the period 2008-2027 was approved with a budget of €5,500M.

Action taken

The development of the Upper Guadiana Plan was supported by the NeWater project (EU funding) under which an extended participatory process was tested. About 10 stakeholder meetings and series of workshops were held to mobilize initiatives of large and small farmers, regional agricultural departments, and central water authority in implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. Also, Decision Support Tools (DST) were applied in order to evaluate their usefulness for adaptive water management.

One of the objectives of the NeWater project was to translate scientific research on IWRM to be applied in practice. Thus different tools were applied in the basin, including: water footprint analysis, Bayesian networks, hydrology model WEAP (water evaluator and planning system), and CART analysis.

Lessons learned

  • The scientific methods (used in NeWater Project) have had an impact on Spanish water policy. Central government has required water authorities to use the water footprint method to prepare all Ricer Basin Management Plans.
  • Neutrality of the research team has been central to generate an atmosphere of reliability and trust within which stakeholders felt free to share their views openly.
  • Detailed economic studies of the agricultural sector have provided an objective in-depth examination of the situation.


Photo credit: Lutty Moreira